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Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

How Partnership is Combating Deforestation in the Amazon

An aerial photograph shows a tract of the Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers in Pará State. Imazon is primarily based out of Para and has worked to reduce illegal deforestation by 80 percent. / Stian Bergeland/Rainforest Foundation Norway/Reuters

An aerial photograph shows a tract of the Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers in Pará State. Imazon is primarily based out of Para and has worked to reduce illegal deforestation by 80 percent. / Stian Bergeland/Rainforest Foundation Norway/Reuters

As a nation that claims more than two thirds of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil will be a key player in the negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this week. In fact, representatives from Brazil are expected to present a national proposal for fighting climate change—with a goal of reducing deforestation further from the 80 percent drop seen between 2004 and 2014.

About 17 percent of the Amazon has already been lost to deforestation. The loss of forest cover causes dramatic changes in rainfall distribution, disrupts the global carbon cycle and intensifies global warming effects, with grave consequences for both people and biodiversity.

For the team at Imazon, an 80 percent drop is not enough.

The map shows deforestation and degradation in the Amazon rainforest. The State of Paráa has experienced some of the heaviest rates of deforestation in Brazil. / Imazon

The map shows deforestation and degradation in the Amazon rainforest. The State of Paráa has experienced some of the heaviest rates of deforestation in Brazil. / Imazon

Imazon, a nonprofit research institute funded by the Innovation Investment Alliance—a partnership between USAID and the Skoll Foundation, in collaboration with Mercy Corps, that helps promising social enterprises reach scale—is taking the challenge a step further, with a goal to end deforestation entirely within the next decade.

Given that Brazil is still losing around 5,000 square kilometers of forest  a year, anything less is a failure to do what is necessary, feasible and advantageous.

Based in Belém, Brazil, Imazon is at the forefront of a campaign to raise awareness about the loss of the Amazon. It uses satellite mapping technology to provide a true picture of deforestation on the ground and to monitor the situation with real-time data. The information is provided to the Brazilian government and local landowners. Imazon’s growing body of data and research is playing an ever-larger role in influencing political and land ownership decisions in favor of sustainability.

For example, Imazon’s Rural Landowner Registry, or CAR (Cadastro Ambiental Rural), is a system that requires all rural properties to be mapped and registered through the Brazilian government. In addition to providing important data regarding land use and deforestation rates, CAR allows landowners and municipalities to formalize which parcels of land are actually theirs, thus keeping in check those who may be clearing forest illegally.

The program has been a huge success. In the Paragominas municipality of Pará, a state infamous for rapid forest loss and corruption, Imazon was able to help reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent.

Today, with support from the Innovation Investment Alliance, Imazon is expanding its programs to 50 municipalities throughout Pará, with a goal to reduce the rate of deforestation while supporting economic growth based on a foundation of legally held land use.

Imazon is also working to take its approach beyond Brazil’s borders, to share its pioneering maps with the global community. The launch of Google Earth Engine—an online global environmental monitoring platform with more than 40 years of historic measurements—has allowed Imazon to connect with leading organizations throughout the world that want to build on the organization’s model.

Brazil’s new environmental plan is promising, but Imazon’s team sees that more can be done. While hopeful that Brazil is moving in the right direction, the ultimate goal of ending deforestation will require solid planning from Brazil’s leaders alongside the technical know-how of organizations like Imazon. Together, they can build the connections that create positive change for people and the planet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathleen Hunt is a Senior Partnership Advisor in Center for Transformational Partnerships in the Global Development Lab. She works on issues related to social entrepreneurship and women’s economic empowerment.

Openly LGBTI and in Office: A Historic Election for Guatemala

USAID elections projects promote transgender rights with lessons learned from the region. / NDI

USAID elections projects promote transgender rights with lessons learned from the region. / NDI

In Guatemala’s recent elections, Sandra Morán became the first openly LGBTI member of the Guatemalan Congress. She hopes to use her position to advance human rights throughout the country.

“My promise is to all people,” she said. “Although most identify me as a feminist, I believe in rights for all. I am a lesbian and I live as that. I hope that the global fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights advances to a point where it transcends to the smallest towns and communities worldwide.”

Morán’s election is no light feat for Guatemala; a nationwide survey conducted by George Washington University in 2012 found that 74 percent of Guatemalans would not vote for an openly LGBTI candidate, making Morán’s win against the odds.

But the Sept. 6 elections embodied a spirit of change, reflecting a growing sentiment against problems within Guatemalan government and society. “The elections occurred in the context of a fight against corruption and traditional politics; my election to Congress is a representation of that,” Morán said.

LGBTI Inclusion in Guatemala’s 2015 Elections

Congresswoman Morán, who has participated in USAID’s Elections Project: More Inclusion, Less Violence roundtables, feels a sense of hope for the future of LGBTI community. “It is about creating visibility. I hope to be able to enact legislation that supports equal rights and creates public policy change for the LGBTI community. It is my hope that as the movement strengthens, the communities lagging behind can progress.”

A transgender woman votes in Guatemala’s 2015 elections. / Shannon Schissler, USAID

A transgender woman votes in Guatemala’s 2015 elections. / Shannon Schissler, USAID


Morán’s election to Congress, in addition to projects that foster dialogue, visibility and respect for the LGBTI community, are laying a foundation for inclusion and tolerance, promoting a more democratic future for Guatemala.

USAID’s project helped launch a “Get Out the Vote” campaign to ensure that the LGBTI community had the opportunity to vote.

In partnership with Guatemala’s Election Tribunal, the project organized an LGBTI voter registration day. More than 200 community members registered to vote, helping make this election one with the highest voter turnout in recent Guatemalan history.

The project also enlisted eight transgender women to participate as election observers – another first for Guatemala.

“It is impossible to become comfortable with what we don’t see, know or live personally,” said Eduardo Nunez, the Guatemala country director of the National Democratic Institute, as he underscored the importance of encouraging dialogue, civic engagement and participation for the LGBTI community.

Debby Linares Sandoval — a transgender woman, LGBTI activist and advisor on USAID’s project — said she was proud of the experience she shared with other LGBTI voters.

“In the hour I was there, I interacted with eight gay voters and three transgender voters,” she said. “None of the transgender voters got harassed about their identity. I think that’s a big step for electoral awareness and opening to the community – for me, that is the start of something positive.”

USAID has helped Guatemala’s Election Tribunal update election manuals and provide trainings to electoral officials on how to be sensitive to people whose appearances are not congruent with the birth name on their personal identification card.

In the past, if a woman came to vote with an ID card with a male name, her ability to vote would be jeopardized. Recent efforts, through institutional changes and promoting internal dialogues, seek to extend tolerance and respect to all people.

My fight as an activist is about giving people voices that do not have one,” said Debby. “It’s to provoke civil society and the government to give us the same opportunities as any other citizen, with respect.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alana Marsili is a strategic communications advisor in USAID’s Democracy, Rights, and Governance Office working on citizen security, youth political leadership and urban municipal governance. Follow her @AlanaMarsili.

How Guatemala’s Justice System Became Strong Enough to Prosecute Corruption

People hold national flags and a sign reading "I love CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala)" as they take part in a Aug. 22 demonstration in Guatemala City demanding President Otto Perez's resignation. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

People hold national flags and a sign reading “I love CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala)” as they take part in a Aug. 22 demonstration in Guatemala City demanding President Otto Perez’s resignation. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

About six months ago, the UN-mandated International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, together with Guatemala’s Public Ministry, swept through the country, exposing high-level corruption and scandals that ultimately landed President Otto Perez Molina behind bars.

The investigations resulted in the resignation of over four dozen high-level public officials, including the president, the vice president, and several ministers. The ring of corruption supported six major scandals that cost Guatemalan taxpayers more than $200 million and resulted in 10 deaths due to medical malpractice.

The role of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala has been particularly significant in uprooting deep-seated corruption in Guatemala. However, it arguably would not have been as successful without over a decade of strategic reform in Guatemala’s judiciary.

Over the past 15 years, USAID’s justice reform efforts played an integral role in spurring Guatemala’s judicial metamorphosis. USAID supported the Government of Guatemala in establishing a criminal justice system that now has the capacity and fortitude to prosecute high-level corruption.

The implementation of oral proceedings required new court structures and procedures that have transformed Guatemala’s court system. With a new criminal procedure code and a restructure of the roles and responsibilities of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, the country has improved the efficiency, transparency and effectiveness of the court system.

USAID’s provision of training to the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Corruption led to a new investigation model and an inter-institutional cooperation agreement for the investigation and prosecution of corruption and crimes within the public administration.

Since the implementation of the model, trainings that focus on criminal investigation, case theory, forensic audits, prosecution strategy and presentation of corruption cases have been ongoing and attended by justice sector officials.

An image showing Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina shaking hands with the Chief of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, is posted on a market wall in Guatemala City on Aug. 28. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

An image showing Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina shaking hands with the Chief of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, is posted on a market wall in Guatemala City on Aug. 28. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

USAID also worked with the Government of Guatemala to establish a “high impact court” to focus on ensuring the most sensitive and complex cases can be processed. These cases include corruption, organized crime, kidnappings, narco-trafficking, gangs and trafficking in persons — cases that need to be tried in a secure area with protection measures.

USAID worked with the country’s Supreme Court to ensure these courts would have the necessary security for Guatemala’s justice sector personnel. Previously, their work on these dangerous cases would have had little chance of proceeding through the justice system.

Around-the-Clock Justice

Nearly a decade ago, USAID worked with the judiciary, the Attorney General’s office and the police to pilot a new 24-hour court model in Guatemala City. Judges are now available 24 hours a day so that a detainee can be seen by a judge within six hours of arrest. Before, detainees were often held in prisons for more than three days — a violation of due process.

These courts are effective and financially sustainable. Under the old system, over 77 percent of cases in Guatemala City were dismissed for lack of merit, often because the arresting officer was not present at the long-overdue hearing. Under the new model, the number of cases dismissed for lack of merit is less than 15 percent.  Now fully funded by the Government of Guatemala, the 24-hour court also benefits investigative processes by allowing prosecutors to seek court orders for wiretapping or search warrants around the clock.

On Sept. 11, the model was replicated in Guatemala’s second largest city, Quezteltenango (also known as Xela), after a decade operating with a traditional court structure.

The new 24-hour court is the latest evidence of the country’s institutional determination and ongoing commitment to effectively deliver justice — a cornerstone of Guatemala’s continuum to democracy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alana Marsili is a strategic communications advisor in USAID’s Democracy, Rights, and Governance Office working on citizen security, youth political leadership and urban municipal governance. Follow her @AlanaMarsili.

Raising the Bar, Honduran Singer Fights Violence through Music

With an inspiring message about peace and non-violence, Eduardo Umanzor performs at a Community Heroes event organized by USAID. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

With an inspiring message about peace and non-violence, Eduardo Umanzor performs at a Community Heroes event organized by USAID. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in the 1990s, the only concern I had was being yelled at or spanked by my parents because I was out late riding my bicycle or playing with kids in the street.

Today, it is a different story.

San Pedro Sula is now one of the most dangerous cities outside of a war zone, with a homicide rate about seven times higher than what health experts consider to be an epidemic. Some have dubbed my hometown “the murder capital of the world.” It fills me with deep sadness to see the city devolve into such violence.

So when the staff of USAID’s Alianza Joven program contacted my band Montuca Sound System to write the theme song for the campaign “Sí podemos Sampedranos”– or “Yes, we can, citizens of San Pedro Sula” — I felt honored. I saw it as a huge opportunity to give hope to a lot of young people through song.

At the time, my band had just become very popular across Honduras thanks to a contract with a mobile phone company, which beamed us into people’s homes with jingles we wrote for TV commercials. I was happy to use my newfound influence to raise social consciousness.

The 2011 launch of the “Sí podemos Sampedranos” campaign to end violence in San Pedro Sula coincided with the development of a Municipal Violence Prevention Plan and the construction of new outreach centers for at-risk youth.

Through nearly 50 youth outreach centers in seven Honduran cities, USAID’s Alianza Joven Honduras program, implemented by Creative Associates, offers a variety of activities to keep young people away from gangs and drugs. The youth outreach centers serve as safe spaces in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.

By participating in sports, art, school tutoring, life skills coaching, volunteerism and job training, vulnerable youth are developing the skills they need to live a better life.

Musician Eduardo Umanzor is inspiring young fans to take pride in their communities through uplifting songs.  / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

Musician Eduardo Umanzor is inspiring young fans to take pride in their communities through uplifting songs. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

I’ve been impressed with the success of the outreach centers in bringing hope to the community. Many of my songs are about restoring pride in San Pedro Sula and bringing more love and peace to the city and youth. I’m always happy to sing them at graduation ceremonies and community talent shows with youth from the neighborhoods where Alianza Joven works.

Music can be a powerful force for social change. As soon as I get on stage and start singing the song “Un Poco De Amor,” which says, “Honduras needs a little bit of love,” I see the way my fans sing along. I see the way they feel inspired. Then they come to me and say, “Eduardo, these songs help me feel positive about the future.”

I sensed a burgeoning social movement while playing in my past band, Montuca Sound System, several years ago. I was writing songs about bloodshed, injustice and inequality in Honduras, and I saw how that led my friends and other kids my age to open their eyes and become interested in politics.

It’s hard to believe, but a lot of the people that I knew didn’t know they were living in such a troubled place.

I’m optimistic about the future for Honduras. Two and a half years ago, I had the chance to visit my sister in Bogota, Colombia, a city that once struggled with high rates of violent crime. My brother-in-law told me stories of how dangerous the area used to be, the near-constant fear he felt growing up, not knowing when a car was going to explode. You couldn’t feel safe anywhere.

Today, Bogota is beautiful, and not for one second during my stay did I feel unsafe. The transformation Bogota underwent gives me hope for the future of San Pedro Sula. It’s a matter of the community coming together to figure out what’s wrong and then working hard to fix those problems.

It’s never too late to start again for a new beginning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eduardo Umanzor is a singer and songwriter in Honduras. Follow him @EduardoUmanzor_

An Inclusive Society, a Paraguay without Barriers

Fundación Saraki’s President María José Cabezudo hugs her brother Carlos Cabezudo during a recent event promoting disability rights. / Giovanna Pederzani.

Fundación Saraki’s President María José Cabezudo hugs her brother Carlos Cabezudo during a recent event promoting disability rights. / Giovanna Pederzani.

As an  advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities, I thought I understood the issue well.

But today I finally understand what putting myself in someone else’s shoes really means.

I recently attended an event organized by Fundación Saraki, the leading disability rights organization in Paraguay. The event was intended to raise awareness and support for their activities, but it ended up teaching people like me about the world people with disabilities live in.

After I arrived at the Hotel Guarani, I was forced to walk up the stairs to the main event room, rather than use the elevators. Organizers wanted guests to experience the inconveniences that many people with physical disabilities encounter every day. Reaching the second floor with my high heels and a loaded backpack was challenging — imagine what it must  be like for someone in a wheelchair?

At the entrance to the venue, I registered … with a tiny pen that would be too small for even my son’s small hands, and on a paper that was placed on a registration desk that was only a foot tall. Another message: This is everyday reality for people with disabilities who are significantly shorter than the average height.

To reach the event room, I had to navigated through a dark tunnel that organizers had constructed. As I meandered through the claustrophobic space, I could not see anything, and I struggled to go around obstacles with my hands and feet. Unfortunately, this is an experience all too common for someone who cannot see.

After traversing the frightening tunnel, I finally reached the event space. Twenty to 30 people in wheelchairs blocked the entrance, forcing me to apologize and suck in my stomach as I tried to get around them and into the room. Message received: This must be what it’s like for someone with a physical disability who is trying to enter a public restroom that is not accessible.

I finally reached my seat and opened an envelope with the agenda. It was in Braille. I don’t read Braille. I tried to close my eyes and imagine what it might say, but I couldn’t. This information was important, yet it was not available to someone like me who has different capabilities.

U.S. Ambassador Leslie A. Bassett and Director Of  Employment Of the Paraguayan Ministry of Labor Cesar Martinez pose with Mario Marecos, a Paraguayan human rights activist and  member of the National Commission of the Rights of People with Disabilities. / Chiara Pederzani

U.S. Ambassador Leslie A. Bassett and Director Of Employment Of the Paraguayan Ministry of Labor Cesar Martinez pose with Mario Marecos, a Paraguayan human rights activist and member of the National Commission of the Rights of People with Disabilities. / Chiara Pederzani

In the background, I could hear one of my favorite songs, Maxixe by Agustín Barrios. But this time, it was at a high pitch and too loud. Instead of being a song for the soul, it was an absolute nuisance to my ears.

When the music finally stopped, a woman took the floor and began to speak. I could not understand anything. She might have spoken in French and German, two very common languages, but incomprehensible to me.

Then a short film played on a giant screen. The film and sound were blurry and I could not understand what people were saying or what was being shown.

The whole experience lasted less than 30 minutes, but it worked. It was enough to make me feel totally excluded. I couldn’t get around. I could not understand the people around me. Everything felt narrow, too low, or too uncomfortable. I could not see well. Nothing was done to accommodate my needs.

I realized this is daily life for so many persons with disabilities.

No one should have to fight this way to live their lives. We can change it. We have to continue fighting for an accessible society, an inclusive Paraguay without barriers.

With the support of USAID, Fundación Saraki is working to make this a reality by raising awareness, influencing legislation, strengthening organizations for persons with disabilities, and promoting inclusion in work and education.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Giovanna Pederzani is a Paraguayan architect and an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities.

Meet the Next Generation of Disaster Responders

It only takes one bad storm to kill or injure thousands, inflict billions of dollars in damage, and wreak havoc on communities in its path. As part of Hurricane Preparedness Week, USAID joins other response organizations in raising public awareness and preparedness efforts for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season.

While this national effort happens once a year, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) works year-round with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to reduce the impacts of hurricanes by helping them prepare for storms before they happen.

In Kingston, Jamaica, people take notice when the St. Patrick’s Rangers come to their neighborhood. The Rangers wear matching shirts, and have a certain swagger to their walk. And they always seem to make a beeline for the worst house on the block.

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is partnering with Catholic Relief Services to support the St. Patrick’s Rangers, a program to empower at-risk youth to become the next generation of disaster responders. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is partnering with Catholic Relief Services to support the St. Patrick’s Rangers, a program to empower at-risk youth to become the next generation of disaster responders. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

These organized and enthusiastic teens represent the next generation of disaster responders.

For years, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance has supported the work of Catholic Relief Services to transform at-risk youth into disaster preparedness leaders. By joining the St. Patrick’s Rangers, young people learn how to help communities plan for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, map out evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters. They also help people repair their homes after storms hit.

Jamaica is no stranger to extreme weather, having been slammed by some 50 hurricanes and tropical storms since modern-day record keeping began in the late 1880s. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Jamaica is no stranger to extreme weather, having been slammed by some 50 hurricanes and tropical storms since modern-day record keeping began in the late 1880s. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“People normally think that it’s older persons that are part of disaster risk reduction … who can [be] a leader,” said Tovia Rankine, a member of the St. Patrick’s Rangers. “And we, the young persons are taking on this mantle.”

Jamaica is no stranger to extreme weather. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan slammed into Jamaica, damaging the homes of more than 19,000 people — including the Kingston home of 64-year-old Lincoln “Bull” Parks.

“Ivan just took everything. Put everything on the ground flat and left me outside under the sun,” Bull said.

Lincoln “Bull” Parks lost his home when Hurricane Ivan hit Jamaica. It wasn’t until the St. Patrick’s Rangers came calling that he got help to start over. / USAID/OFDA

Lincoln “Bull” Parks lost his home when Hurricane Ivan hit Jamaica. It wasn’t until the St. Patrick’s Rangers came calling that he got help to start over. / USAID/OFDA

With his home leveled, Bull lived in a little hut made out of scavenged materials. It was so small that he had to crawl on his hands and knees to get inside. Having lost hope that help would come, he retreated from the community and only came out to “charge” at those entering his property, thereby earning his nickname Bull.

Then the St. Patrick’s Rangers came calling. Not only did they help rebuild Bull’s home, they also gained skills to build themselves a better future.

“Many of these kids weren’t aware of what they can do before,” said Dwayne Francis, a St. Patrick’s Rangers group leader. “And now they’re doing stuff that’s to their wildest dreams.”

What’s more, Bull now has a home.

“I said, ‘I thank everyone from the top to the bottom.’ Everyone involved. Grateful,” Bull said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Kimbrough is the Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Fostering a Sense of Belonging Key in Preventing Youth Violence

USAID and A Ganar run a sports and leadership program that partners with companies like Nike and Coca Cola to increase employment opportunities for at-risk youth. / Partners of the Americas

USAID and A Ganar run a sports and leadership program that partners with companies like Nike and Coca Cola to increase employment opportunities for at-risk youth. / Partners of the Americas

What do violent street gangs in the United States and Central America and extremist groups in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa have in common?

The answer to that question — which violence prevention researchers and practitioners are increasingly concerned with — could be the key to solving some of the world’s most intractable problems.

So far, group identity has been found to be a major factor in kids making the “irrational deliberative decision” to join a gang.

From the inner city streets of L.A. or Baltimore, to the rough barrios of Tegucigalpa or Guatemala City, to the violent post-revolutionary urban districts in Tunis, youth are getting involved in gangs or extremist groups in the pursuit of one simple thing: belonging.

A young Arab who once considered joining ISIS told USAID staff in Tunisia, “I just wanted to be part of something.”

The same feeling has been articulated by hundreds of disaffected youth in American urban ghettos, as well as in marginalized neighborhoods of Central America.

This was one of the themes addressed by experts at the USAID-sponsored L.A. Gang Violence Prevention and Intervention Conference, held in Los Angeles earlier this month.

At the conference, Robert Örel, a former neo Nazi, shared a similar yearning for joining the white supremacist group as a teenager in Sweden. “It was about forming an identity,” he said.

“The group helped me channel my anger and disappointment,” he added.

Fabian Debora, a former gang member in California, told the audience about the physical abuse he and his mother endured at the hands of a relative. As a teen, Debora said, the abuse made him feel angry, and so he wanted to take it out on everyone else.

This situation is forcing governments and civil society organizations around the globe to double down on prevention and counter-recruiting efforts. USAID supports such efforts in different corners of the world, including Mexico, Central America and North Africa.

Jesus Lanza, of Honduras, won an entrepreneurship contest with his burger business, part of a program to boost job skills among at-risk youth. / David Snyder, Creative Associates International

Jesus Lanza, of Honduras, won an entrepreneurship contest with his burger business, part of a program to boost job skills among at-risk youth. / David Snyder, Creative Associates International

For those of us who attended the Gang Conference from across the United States, Mexico and Central America, the personal testimonies of panelists—like Örel and Debora—sounded all too familiar.

The feelings of disconnect and hopelessness that motivate youth to join violent and extremist groups echo what I’ve heard repeatedly from at-risk youth in Guatemala on their reasons for pursuing lives of violence.

Similarly, Michele Piercey from Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI) — who led countering violent extremism programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Tunisia — shared with us innovative strategies used in Tunisia to foster a sense of belonging in at-risk youth. The goal is to counter the despair many Arab youth experienced in the wake of the Arab Spring.

She showed us pictures and videos of youth who learned to express their feelings through art and music, such as rap and hip hop. USAID is pursuing similar strategies here in Guatemala.

Honduran Police Sub Commissioner Cesar Mendoza advocated at the conference for policymakers to invest more in prevention than in “reactive and repressive approaches.”

Yet, others emphasized the importance of family in reducing the risks for youth to engage in violent behavior, whether it is in street gangs or extremist groups.

Richard Ramos of the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership, hit the right tone when he said “you cannot replace parents with programs.” I agree.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carlos A. Rosales is a Violence Prevention Specialist at USAID’s field office in Guatemala.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. The entire city just shrunk.”

Within mere seconds, more than 200,000 people were killed, and 1.5 million were displaced from their homes.  Buildings were completely destroyed. Phone connections were down. The scene was, in short, total devastation. It was January 12, 2010—five years ago today—when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince and forever changed Haiti.

This earthquake would have been calamitous and overwhelming anywhere, but in Haiti—a poor country with weak building infrastructure—it hit at the heart, in the populous capital city, creating a massive urban disaster.

USAID’s Haiti Earthquake Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader Tim Callaghan and USAID Administrator Raj Shah during the 2010 response.  / USAID.

USAID’s Haiti Earthquake Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader Tim Callaghan and USAID Administrator Raj Shah during the 2010 response. / USAID.

As Team Leader for USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), I deployed in the first 24 hours and witnessed firsthand the perfect storm of challenging response issues: no communication as all phone connections were down; 1.5 million people were instantly displaced, with no shelter; in seconds, children were orphaned; Haitian Government officials and local disaster responders were affected themselves; transportation was severely hampered by the rubble; there was a myriad of health and nutrition concerns; and death was everywhere.

USAID-supported programs helped remove more than 50% of the total rubble cleared by the international community. / U.S. Navy, Chief Mass Communication Specialist Robert J. Fluegel

USAID-supported programs helped remove more than 50% of the total rubble cleared by the international community. / U.S. Navy, Chief Mass Communication Specialist Robert J. Fluegel

Rubble literally filled the streets. We found out later that the earthquake had generated enough rubble to fill dump trucks lined up from Maine to Florida twice. On the ground, this meant major obstacles to delivering life-saving assistance. It also required our DART to have a large urban-search-and-rescue (USAR) component with over 500 USAR members at its peak. These teams worked tirelessly, crawling through broken buildings, to find and save people who were trapped inside. One of my proudest memories was being on site early one morning around 3 a.m. to see our USAR teams pull people out of the wreckage. It is something I will never forget.

Members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Search and Rescue Team rescue a Haitian woman from a collapsed building in downtown Port-au-Prince. The woman had been trapped in the building for five days without food or water. / U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stumberg

Members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Search and Rescue Team rescue a Haitian woman from a collapsed building in downtown Port-au-Prince. The woman had been trapped in the building for five days without food or water. / U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stumberg

In addition to so many Haitian lives tragically taken on that day, several American colleagues from the U.S. Embassy also perished—the first time I had ever worked on a disaster response where this was the case.

Yet it’s during times like the Haiti earthquake that I am so vividly inspired by the mandate of the office I work for—USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—which is to save lives and alleviate human suffering. The DART did that in Haiti five years ago, rapidly providing humanitarian assistance and care to those in need. I was honored to manage a team of dedicated people who worked 20-hour days for weeks on end in grueling conditions.

Looking back, I also will never forget the incredible resilience and strength of the Haitian people. They lost so much, and yet were willing to roll up their sleeves amid all the tragedy to work with us in every way possible to build back their lives. The people of Ravine Pintade—one of the hardest hit areas—joined us and our partners Global Communities and Project Concern International to transform their devastated neighborhood into a model community.

Since 2010, USAID has continued to work together with the people of Haiti and their local and national governments traversing the long road from recovery to development and helping mitigate the damage of future crises. We’ve increased communities’ disaster resilience through preparedness and response planning, support to emergency operations centers and evacuation shelters, and small-scale infrastructure projects like retaining walls and drainage systems. We’ve also helped improve local capacity by training locals to handle disaster response efforts—everything from preparing first responders to designating leadership roles to managing relief supplies.

Haiti is vulnerable to many disasters including earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding; but through these disaster risk reduction efforts, USAID is helping Haiti become more capable of preparing and responding to whatever disaster may strike next.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Callaghan is the Senior Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. During the 2010 Haiti earthquake response, Callaghan served as USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader.

Related Links:

Mapping Change in the Amazon: How Satellite Images are Halting Deforestation

This blog post originally appeared on the Global Envision blog published by Mercy Corps.

In the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, a group of scientists have become unconventional crusaders in the battle to halt deforestation. They are the engine behind Imazon, one of the most prolific research groups based in the Amazon. Imazon is now collaborating with the government of the Brazilian state of Pará to combine real time satellite imagery and advanced mapping techniques with a system of incentives and penalties to embolden indigenous communities, local governments, and farmers to protect the rainforest.

Amazon rain forest. Credit: The Skoll Foundation

The Skoll Foundation


Until recently, Pará was the epicenter of unchecked rainforest devastation. Known locally for its rural corruption and banditry, the region had been losing 6,255 square kilometers of rich biodiversity annually – an area roughly the size of Delaware. The assault threatened the territory of some of the last untouched tribes in the world, and chipped away at the Amazon’s ability to absorb 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, a critical factor in regulating the earth’s climate cycle.

But the Brazilian Amazon is vast. Patrol vehicles can’t monitor the entire region from the ground. This is particularly true for indigenous communities trying to oversee their protected lands with limited resources.

Imazon

Imazon


And without accurate and timely information about illegal logging and sawmills, authorities and community members are helpless to stop the destruction before it it’s too late.

That’s why Carlos Souza Jr., a native of Pará’s capital of Belem, got involved. Souza earned a doctoral degree in advanced image processing techniques from the University of California-Santa Barbara and recognized that this technology could be the crucial missing link to address deforestation in his home country. Souza and a small team of researchers at Imazon developed detailed maps using free satellite imagery from the NASA sensor MODIS.

The Skoll Foundation

The Skoll Foundation


But the end goal was not just to produce beautiful maps.

Souza and his team began tracking changes in deforestation. They used the information to spark frank discussions about the future of the Amazon and to push for informed action on the issue. In some cases this meant cracking down on illegal operations, and in others it meant training farmers in improved farming techniques to enable higher incomes.

Imazon

Imazon


“Using scientific methods to approach sustainable development puts Imazon in a very good position to host dialogues with different stakeholders because the information we produce is neutral,” Souza explains. “They may not agree with the results, but they know there is no bias.”

For Souza and the Imazon team, this is the real value of their program: putting detailed scientific data in the hands of the people who can create positive change.

Photo: Skoll / Map: Imazon

Photo: Skoll / Map: Imazon


And it’s started to work.

In early 2013, the Brazilian police and army from the community of Nova Esperança do Piria used Imazon’s satellite images to conduct large scale raids on unlicensed sawmills that were infringing on the Alto Guáma Indigenous Reserve, situated within the Amazon.

Imazon

Imazon


Last year, Imazon expanded its work with support from the Investment Innovations Alliance, a joint venture fund between USAID and the Skoll Foundation, in collaboration with Mercy Corps. The Alliance invested $6 million, which allowed Imazon to grow and institutionalize its cartographic monitoring system and support the expansion of the Green Municipalities Program.

Map: Imazon, ISA, and IPAM  Photo: The Skoll Foundation

Map: Imazon, ISA, and IPAM Photo: The Skoll Foundation


Deforestation is already on the decline: after rising in the first half of 2013, the deforestation rate between August and December decreased by 70% compared to the same period the year before.

Now Imazon wants to take this movement beyond Brazil’s borders.

M24instudio

M24instudio


The launch of Google Earth Engine has allowed Imazon to share their pioneering maps with the global community and they are connecting with leading organizations throughout the region that want to integrate Imazon’s approach.

Souza is optimistic about the organization’s ability to adapt their strategies and burgeon their impact as they continue in the battle to preserve the world’s most pristine rainforests.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Huguet is the Assistant Program Officer of the Investment Innovations Alliance

5 Ways USAID is Preparing for Hurricane Season

As another Atlantic hurricane season approaches, we are reminded that it takes just one bad storm to wreak havoc, kill and injure thousands, and inflict billions of dollars in damage. That’s why USAID—through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—prepares year-round with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to ensure emergency and evacuation plans are in place and hurricane-prone communities are ready. Here are five ways USAID is helping prepare our neighbors to meet the demands of hurricane season:

1.) The Wall of Wind: Did you know there is a place in Miami, Fla., where deadly, hurricane force winds can be felt without the threat of destruction? It’s called the Wall of Wind, a cutting-edge lab at Florida International University that simulates Category Five hurricane conditions using 12 giant fans, generating winds with speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour. It’s here that USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance tests the strength and design of the transitional shelters we use to help provide a temporary home to those who have been hit hard by disasters. Hurricanes can be catastrophic, taking out entire coastlines and killing thousands in the process. Flying debris, often from pieces of roofs and homes, is one of the most deadly and destructive side effects of these storms. That’s why it’s crucial that transitional shelters are strong enough to withstand nature’s worst.

 

2.) Scientific Advanced Warning Systems: Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal aspect of hurricanes. When they occur, excess water caused by heavy and rapid rainfall cannot be quickly absorbed into the earth—and this fast-moving water can be extremely powerful, reaching heights of more than 30 feet. It takes only six inches of flash flood water to knock a person to the ground and only 18 inches to float a moving car. Even though the onset of flash floods is almost immediate, it is possible to give up to a six hour window of advanced notice—just enough time to save lives. USAID works closely with meteorological experts in hurricane-prone countries, training them on the Flash Flood Guidance System, a scientific method of accumulating rainfall data and analyzing the rate at which the ground absorbs it. This system saves lives, giving disaster-prone countries crucial hours before a flash flood hits to implement emergency plans and move as many people as possible out of harm’s way.

Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal aspect of hurricanes

Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal aspect of hurricanes / Olga Palmer, US Embassy

 

3.) Emergency Stockpiles and Disaster Experts: USAID has strategically located warehouses in Miami; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Pisa, Italy, that are filled with essential relief items, such as emergency shelter materials, warm blankets, water treatment systems, and hygiene kits. We have the ability to charter aircraft to deliver these life-saving items quickly to those hit hard by hurricanes across Latin America and the Caribbean. But arguably, the most vital resource USAID has is its people. The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance staffs a regional office in San Jose, Costa Rica, and a program office in Haiti with a total of five regional advisors and three program officers, and maintains a consultant network of 20 disaster risk management specialists dispersed throughout the region who are ready to jump into action when a hurricane makes landfall. When we know a storm is coming, we can pre-position staff to be on the ground to assess immediate needs. In addition, approximately 350 on-call local consultants are available for short-term activation in response to disasters, as needed. These consultants live in the region, so they know the culture and local officials, and can quickly report the conditions on the ground to help USAID prioritize humanitarian needs.

The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in San Jose, Costa Rica

The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in San Jose, Costa Rica / USAID

 

4.) Donating Smart: Preparing your family and home for hurricanes is important—but what about preparing yourself to assist others? We work closely with USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information to educate the public on the best and most effective ways to help others during a hurricane. When there is a disaster overseas, many people begin to collect clothing, canned food and bottled water for survivors. While well-intended, many of these items actually remain in the United States because of the high fees and cost required to transport the donated goods to a foreign country. Other items are turned away at their destination because they are not tied to a response organization that would be responsible for handling and delivering them or are deemed inappropriate according to the laws and customs of the region. Undoubtedly the least time-consuming and most cost-effective way to help others is through monetary donations to organizations that are established and operating in the affected countries. These donations enable relief workers to respond to the evolving needs of those affected by hurricanes, from immediate life-saving assistance to eventually helping them rebuild their communities. Still not convinced that donating money during a disaster is the best way to help?

 
5.) Rap Music and Dance: Yes, you read that right. USAID works in some of the most marginalized neighborhoods across the Caribbean to channel the energy and creativity from at-risk youth to transform them into disaster preparedness leaders. The Youth Emergency Action Committees program led by our partner, Catholic Relief Services, is one that teaches young people how to plan for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, map out evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters. Teens write music, create skits, and perform them to raise awareness in their communities about disaster preparedness while simultaneously learning life-saving skills. Rap music, in particular, has been a big hit! The program, which started in some of the most hazard-prone and marginalized neighborhoods of inner-city Kingston, Jamaica, has been so successful that it’s expanded to the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Grenada.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Callaghan is the Senior Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

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